The Arboretum’s Ultimate Tree Houses exhibit combines fun and structural engineering

Ask a bunch of kids what constitutes the ultimate tree house, and you’re likely to get some imaginative ideas but few workable concepts. Ask a bunch of architects the same question, and you receive 13 masterfully designed and engineered structures made of steel, wood, bamboo and other materials too grown-up to name.

The latter is just what the organizers of the Arboretum’s “Ultimate Tree Houses” exhibit did. Opening June 14 and running through December, the exhibit spans the garden’s 66-acre site with conceptually complex and logistically challenging extreme tree houses.

Dave Forehand, Arboretum vice president of gardens, says a similar exhibit 10 years ago served as the model for this year’s event.

“Apparently, it was really popular for a summer exhibit. We can really sense the excitement this year as well,” he says.

A mailer was sent to dozens of local architectural firms with the basic concept of the exhibit and contest guidelines: The trees must not be harmed in the process, the tree houses must either be completely ADA accessible or completely inaccessible to everyone, and the tree houses have to be fully awesome.

The organizers received 55 entries. From there, the field was narrowed down to the 13 most extreme examples to be built and featured beginning in June.

Forehand says the trees and botanical garden are the palette for these artistic creations, and the challenge brought out the competitive nature of the participating firms.

“We were amazed by the response and the enthusiasm. It’s some serious detail and engineering.”

Some of the larger firms submitted entries from multiple teams. Other firms put together teams with multi-disciplinary skill sets.

The results are intriguing.

“Ultimate Blooms” by the Beck Group lets visitors be the pollinator and move within three massive tulip blooms. The tulips are connected by a wheelchair-accessible ramp and elevated pathways, as well as steps that provide movement between the blooms.

Carter & Burgess’ entry, “Potted Tree,” is just that. The base of the tree appears to emerge from an oversized clay pot. Just a few feet away is massive watering can, and oversized flowers appear to bloom from the branches above.

The “Underground Tree House” by F&S Partners turns the previous concept upside down — or is it inside out? Meant to simulate the experience of being 10 feet underground, a rooftop garden makes the root systems of the plants visible overhead.

Chuck Armstrong, AIA, and Corgan Associates Inc. teamed to build the “Bamboo Basket,” which looks like an inverted tee-pee wrapped around the base of the tree. But this is no low-tech endeavor. The steel superstructure is called a “transegrity frame.” As we said, grown-up stuff.

The “Ultimate Wow,” dreamed up by designer Jay Smith, is described as a “tree-room” and interactive sculpture. But don’t let the fancy description fool you. It has the look of a good old-fashioned backdoor fort.

When asked if he has picked a favorite, Forehand was circumspect.

“I’m still trying to understand them all,” he says.

What: Ultimate Tree Houses exhibit, featuring 13 professionally designed extreme tree houses by some of Dallas’ premier architectural firms.

Where: The Dallas Arboretum, 8525 Garland, 214-515-6500

When: The Ultimate Tree Houses Exhibit opens June 14 and runs through Dec. 31.

Admission: Adults, $8; Seniors, $7; Children ages 3-12, $5; Children 2 and under and members are

free. Parking $5 per vehicle.

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.